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Saturday, August 3, 2019

Meeting Pram in London

By Nihal D Amerasekera

After the mass dispersal in 1967 meeting batch-mates have mostly been confined to infrequent reunions and occasional get-togethers. For those of us who are separated by the oceans or the vast expanse of land or both, these meetings are rare occurrences. Despite the passage of years, there exists within us a desire to meet and reconnect those years spent together in the Medical Faculty at Kynsey Road. So much has changed in the half a century that has passed since those heady days of our youth. Social media and smartphones have brought us closer together and it is so wonderful to be in contact with friends at the click of a button. But they can never replace that intimacy and the warmth of a face to face chat.

I must refer the reader to the wonderful and searching dialogue on the blog, over a coffee, between Mahen and Pram. This with the follow-up comments will help one create an accurate profile of one of the great achievers in our batch who has given so much in return to the world both professionally and as an individual.

Pram who lived in the posh end of London for many decades is now a summer migrant to this great city from her plush pad in Colombo. Wherever she is, Pram loves to meet and greet people. On her visits she has made the annual batch reunion ‘a must attend’ in London.The very first London reunion was held on the 13th of March 2017 and was at ‘The Richoux’  an iconic French eatery, in a leafy part of London in the shadow of the Lords Cricket Grounds. Since then, the venue has changed to Satay House near Paddington Station for travel convenience. The reunion for 2019 was well attended and a great success.The London Reunion is a wonderful tribute to Pram and her perseverance and tenacity.

I was delighted to accept the offer to meet Pram before her departure from London. We decided to meet at midday opposite Boots store next to Bond Street underground station. Sharp on time, I saw the slim figure standing on Oxford Street. She is a sprightly lady, fit as a fiddle. As always, Pram was very well dressed in a fine Tom Ford jacket, the cynosure of elegance and style. After the hugs and pleasantries we decided to have lunch at the iconic seat of medical education in London, the Royal Society of Medicine in Wimpole Street. This venue of such prestige, repute and status was opened in 1910 by King George V and Queen Mary. The elegance and grandeur of its many lounges, restaurants and bars are breath-taking. We would have been hard pushed to find a better setting for a meal in this locale.

At this stage of our lives none of us are big-eaters. I wish I had these opportunities when I was a hungry boarder in my old school. We went for a lavish 2 course meal as we chatted about life and our times. All through our conversation what struck me was her simplicity and humility. In the 50 years that have elapsed, without exception, we have all been through the rapids. We have all matured immeasurably. As for the past and present, Pram speaks no evil, sees no evil and hears no evil and has a remarkably positive attitude to life. Pram is confident and self-assured and certainly no push-over.  It is a great gift to be able to stand-up for what one believes while remaining calm. She speaks very frankly, modestly and briefly about her many charities and helpful service to humanity but never of the glitz and the glamour of her peripatetic existence travelling the world for her work. We spoke about her generous hospitality at her lavish parties, music and dancing at her home at the Hyde Park residencies and her delight in seeing the guests enjoy themselves. We spoke of our mutual friends, JC and Sura, RSJ, Sanath Lama, Asoka Wijeyekoon, Rohini Abhay, Lucky Abey and many more too numerous to mention as some of them were in batches senior. It is so lovely to receive news of friends. Indeed it is a small world and we realised we had many mutual friends who were not in the medical profession. Pram is a committed Christian and leads a good life quite unlike me, a prodigal son. She is a cheerful person and seamlessly articulate which makes a chat most entertaining. A conversation is never complete without touching on cricket which is built into our Sri Lankan psyche. It was a stimulating conversation of the rise and fall of our national team.

The 2 hours flew past and it was time for us to say goodbye. Pram had a full program lined up for the rest of the day. We bade goodbye with a hug and a thank you promising to stay in contact until me meet again. We were so engrossed in our chat we completely forgot to take a photo for the blog.

The World Cup in England brought many lovers of the game to the home of cricket. Lareef Idroos was here and the customary get-together was hurriedly arranged by Pram. Summer is a busy time for all and many of us including Mahen G and myself couldn’t make it. I am told it was a great success and a wonderful reunion. Rohini Abhayaratna, Manel Hettiaratchi, Haris (better known as Bora) and Harshi Boralessa and Indrani Subramanium attended the function with Pram.

Thursday, July 18, 2019

The Cricket World Cup — a post-mortem

From the Island newspaper of 18 July 2019.

The overthrow that fetched six runs

I eagerly followed this event which concluded last Sunday with a flourish. However, I would like to make the following observations.

1. As there were no reserve days for the league matches, Sri Lanka lost two potential points which may have prevented us from securing a place in the semi-finals. England is notorious for its inclement weather and as they have sufficient resources (grounds, etc.) there should have been reserve days for the league matches. If necessary, two matches could have been played on a single day as was done over week-ends.

2. The final result although extremely exciting for the spectators, was a disaster for the losing side. As ICC umpire Simon Taufel has pointed out, only five runs should have been awarded and not six runs for the overthrow in the final over. The relevant law states that at the time of throwing the ball by a fielder which results in an overthrow, the two batsmen should have crossed each other for a run to be awarded. It was clear from TV replays, that it was not so; in which case Stokes would have been at the bowling end for the rest of the over.

3. Instead of counting boundaries, a second super over should have been bowled.

4. Considering these important facts, England should be gracious enough to share the World Cup with New Zealand, as, after all, cricket is considered to be a gentleman’s game, invented by the English!

Professor Sanath P. Lamabadusuriya

Wednesday, July 17, 2019

The two years that changed my life

By Dr Nihal D Amerasekera

In 1958 my father moved to Kolonnawa. We could see the Government Factory from our verandah. The factory chimneys spewed smoke all day and all night. We lived constantly under this cloud of pollutants. At the edge of our property was a tall perimeter fence of the Kolonnawa Oil Installation. For 3 years we lived next to this ‘time bomb’ which could ignite any minute with devastating consequences. In those days we believed the Government was trustworthy and worked for the benefit of the people. We’ve been let down so many times.

After 10 long years at school I had reached the top of the pile. I was now a 6th former and a prefect with all its trappings of prestige and privileges. On a cold January morning I climbed the wooden stairs by the Physics lab. At the top there was the unmistakable pungent smell of acids and alkalis wafting from the Chemistry lab. Down 2 steps and I was on the corridor leading to the Biology lab where the acrid smell of formalin greeted me. This was to be my domain for a formidable and forbidding 2 years.

The time between 1960 and 1962 was a crucial period in my life when I was engulfed by darkness and despair. It is a weird experience to allow those years to flash before my eyes.Then I was a pimple faced, self-conscious teenager with raging hormones chasing my dream to become a doctor. Soon after I had overcome the challenges of a plethora of subjects at the O-levels, I was thrust into the 6th form to sit for the most competitive exam of my life. During those 2 years all I saw were the laboratories, classrooms and the fragile landscape of the 4 walls of my bedroom.This also became my study. I have often worked deep into the night going on until I heard a lone cockerel heralding the dawn.

I grew up in a loving family. In the best traditions of good parenthood they made me eminently aware of the struggles of life. They also impressed on me that my future lay in my own hands.There was no huge inheritance to receive. I recall their advice with genuine and touching affection. I embarked on my perilous journey with the acquired stoicism of my father’s tough upbringing and the inherited steely competitiveness of my mother’s Kandyan ancestry. The great and the good persuaded me that the hardships endured to pursue a career in medicine was a worthwhile goal with rich rewards.

I embarked on my journey mindful of the tough times ahead.On looking back I couldn’t describe my feelings better than Charles Dickens in ‘A Tale of Two Cities’:
“It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of light, it was the season of darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair.”

I offered Botany, Zoology, Physics and Chemistry for the examination. The syllabuses were huge and the task simply monumental. Each of the subjects had a theory paper and a practical examination conducted by the University of Ceylon. The examination was held at the end of the year with the results posted to the candidates around April time the following year. The successful candidates were called for a Viva Voce examination held at the University at Reid Avenue. There was a Medical School in Colombo and another at Peradeniya. The total intake was 300 students per year. To say the entry into the medical schools was fiercely competitive is a gross understatement.

The examination papers were the same for all the students but the practical exam was a lottery when some had an easier time than others. The teaching and the facilities provided by the schools varied immensely.Hence the examination was not on a level playing field. This resulted in a thriving private tuition industry. Tuition soon became regarded as a vital prerequisite for a successful outcome. Teaching students at weekends and evenings the tutors became widely known, respected and revered. They earned a small fortune on tuition. Although I would have benefited enormously from private tuition,with my demanding and strenuous regime of study I just couldn’t find the hours in the day to fit them in. This indeed dented my confidence somewhat. I took every opportunity to speak with those who had been successful in previous years to learn the shrewd tricks and the essential do’s and don’ts.

My bedroom had a large window. As I pored over my books this was my only contact with the outside world. I could hear the birds sing all day. The sun came streaming in the evening. The noise of the children playing at the bottom of the road brought some life into my soul.  Buxom ladies gossiped and sang while having a bath at the communal well. I was loathed to shut the window even as the monsoon rains lashed the glass pane not wanting to lose my world beyond.

Meanwhile, outside my bubble, there was a vibrant world of teenage fun. It was indeed the swinging sixties. There were parties at weekends with the luxury of drinks and dancing. Mini-skirts were the craze and we all craved for the company of girls. Some went on trips to the beach and visited the cinema. The fun continued at a furious pace by those studying the arts and sciences and also by a few bold aspiring medics. I’ve always been an avid follower of school cricket but sadly this wasn’t possible now. I loved music and listened to the radio in short bursts while my collection of 45 RPM vinyl records gathered dust. These pleasures were sacrificed hoping for better times ahead. I was eminently aware of the wisdom of the age-old proverb “There is many a slip between the cup and the lip”.

I worked tremendously hard in those two years to give it my best shot. The examination came and went like a tornado. I was never one to be satisfied of my performance at examinations, but was delighted that it was all over at least for now. I slowly slipped back in to the calm and lazy life I was used to enjoying school cricket at weekends, visiting family and friends and going to the cinema. Once again loud music filled our home.

Time soon passed. I was pleasantly surprised to receive a letter from the University asking me to present myself for the Viva Voce examination.This was held at the Senate Room of the University. It was a nerve-wracking experience. Seated around a polished wooden table in a poorly lit room were half a dozen grumpy elderly academics. As I walked in they observed me intently and fired a barrage of questions. They were polite but poker faced all through my ordeal. I was so pleased to be released into the afternoon sun.

My debut performance was a success. By the end of the challenge I was physically and mentally exhausted. I found this a most remarkable achievement against all the odds. I thank my parents for their encouragement, love and wise counsel. This wouldn’t have been ever possible without the dedication of my teachers and the inclusive all-round education at Wesley College, Colombo.

I recall most vividly the euphoria on being a doctor in 1967. I dreamed it was a passport to fame and fortune. There was such a great sense of myopic optimism, I lost myself in the adulation. Life always has ways to bring us back to reality!!

I spent a marathon of 40 years in medicine. Time did pass swiftly and relentlessly. Then I looked forward to retirement with the same excitement and euphoria as to the beginning of my career. It is devastating to give up the profession knowing how hard I’ve worked to achieve my youthful aspiration. I left the medical profession with a heavy heart but also happy to be free again. Life is better without the night calls and the onerous routines of a hospital doctor. The long years of toil has taken its toll but I have emerged more philosophical, having witnessed the spectrum of human life from cradle to grave.

In the calm of my retirement I continue to embrace all that life has to offer: family, my passion for sport, music and support for my burgeoning interest in technology. Still there is a part of me that harks back to the times passed. Despite the good life I’ve enjoyed thus far, there is a vague sense of yearning for those two teenage years lost when I was in solitary confinement, burning the midnight oil and being a prisoner of conscience to those grandiose and extravagant ambitions of my youth. As I convey my sense of disillusion of those years, I now wonder how on earth I coped with it all so young. It also gives me a tremendous sense of achievement and accomplishment.

Monday, July 15, 2019

Our "substantial" friend

Our "substantial" friend in happier times. A term coined by Speedy, but let's adopt it. I think this picture was posted on the blog on an earlier occasion, but Srianee (Bunter) had requested me to republish it.

Two "substantial' friends. I think the other person with Razaque is another colleague, the late Somasunderam.

I have edited the introduction. I apologise for the error.

These pics were sent by Srianee (Bunter) and Swyrie.

At the Hikkaduwa Reunion.

Sunday, July 14, 2019

Razaque Ahamat - An Appreciation

Razaque Ahamat – A life remembered by Dr Nihal D Amerasekera

The news of the demise of my friend Razaque Ahamat brings great sadness as I recall our time together since we started med school in 1962. Razaque was educated at St Anthony’s College Wattala. He came from a sporting family where his father captained the 1st XI Cricket Team at Wesley College in 1926 and his elder brother was a boxer and an athlete. Razaque opened the batting for his school.

Because of our surnames “A” we sat together at lectures, weathered the storms of the signatures and revisals and endured the hardships of those clinical appointments. We both lived in Wattala and travelled daily by train from Hunupitiya to Maradana in the carriages packed like sardines. During those years, what stands out is his helpful kindness, his great sense of humour and charming convivial nature. All through those years in the Faculty he enjoyed life to the full. He joined in the many dances, Colours Night and Block Nights that brightened up our lives. Razaque was often one of the last of the stragglers to leave the King George’s Hall at the break of dawn.

At the Faculty, Razaque was often seen in the Men’s Common Room with a “tea-punt”. Hard study was alien to his nature. He was a keen bridge player and a fine raconteur. He had many stories to tell which he related with a slight lisp which enhanced the narrative. He said, with a murky smile, he descended from the Royal family in Penang. Fact or fiction, we will never know just like the other hilarious stories in his repertoire. Razaque brought happiness to our lives at the Faculty when the atmosphere was stuffy and toxic.

Razaque was always self-confident and forthright. What struck me most about him was his unusual mix of intelligence, courage and humility. He always had time for the less fortunate and the less able and a desire to treat everyone fairly and with dignity. He was generous with his affection, encouragement, and kindness, giving freely of his time. He was strong in his convictions and self-assured, yet docile and gentle in his interactions. This self-effacing modesty, combined with an utterly unstuffy attitude to fellow students in particular and life in general, was one of Razaque ’s trademarks.

After the Final Year Examination came the great dispersal. Razaque had a stint in Moneragala as DMO. Then we met again at the Central Blood Bank in Colombo in 1971. There we started where we left off and resumed enjoying those evenings at our favourite watering hole at the Health Department Sports Club. Razaque was appointed as the M.O Blood Bank in Kandy where he worked for several years and we continued to meet in Kandy and Colombo. We both emigrated to the UK around 1974. He was a registrar and then a Senior Registrar at the Prestigious Haematology Department at St George’s Hospital in Tooting, London.

After his training and post-graduate examinations, Razaque was appointed Consultant Haematologist at the Royal Victoria Hospital, Dundee in Scotland. He served the hospital with distinction and took early retirement after which he worked as a Director of the Transfusion Services in New Zealand. He was greatly respected for his work in the antipodes. His work included much air travel visiting hospitals in the North and South Island. After several years in New Zealand, Razaque returned to Dundee to be with his close family. He and his wife Farina created a wonderful garden and enjoyed looking after his plants. We spoke often on the phone reliving those happy days in the Faculty, of mutual friends and of studies together. Razaque had many cardiovascular problems that needed prolonged care and supervision. He accepted the privations and hardship gracefully and without complaint. We were fortunate to experience his wonderful self-deprecating humour on the blog for several years.He took a liberal and cosmopolitan view of life. When speaking about religion or life, often, it was so hard to make out if he was joking or serious. 

Those who attended the London Batch Reunion in the 1990’s will remember Razaque proudly wearing the Scottish kilt with knee-length skirt and long thick stockings. This costume suited the big man to a tee.

Razaque brought joy to our lives. He will be sorely missed.

He is survived by his loving wife Farina and their children Melati, Dr. Haji, Dr. Binthan & Dr. Bulang. We send our condolences to the family at this most difficult time.

May he find Eternal Peace

Inna LillahiVa Inna IlaihiRajioon
From Him do we come and unto Him do we return"

Saturday, July 13, 2019

Razaque Ahamat

One of my oldest friends has passed away. Of course, we didn't know it then. But it was only when we met on the very first day of commencing the 6 months course in Chemistry (1st MB) in the Science Faculty at Thurstan Road in June 1961 (where we sat next to each other in the lecture theatre), that we were able to renew our friendship. On comparing notes, we realised that we had been classmates in 1948 in the Third Standard (Grade III) at St. Anthony's College, Wattala. Since that meeting, we were together for 5 years in Medical College. That visit to my home some time in the early nineties, with his beloved wife Farina, was destined to be my last meeting with Razaque. He ended up in Scotland and I finally settled down in Sri Lanka. Although we were in touch by snail mail followed by e-mail later since then, I never saw my friend Razaque again. This morning, I read his obituary in the Sunday Observer.

May he Rest in Peace.

AHAMAT – DR. RAZAQUE AHAMAT. Son of late Mr. & Mrs. Hajireen Ahamat,​ son-in-law of late Mr. & Mrs. M.A. Sariman,​ beloved husband of Farina,​ loving father of Melati,​ Dr. Haji,​ Dr. Binthan & Dr. Bulang,​ brother of late Shafi,​ late Firoze,​ late Hussain,​ Rene Ismail & Chumbley,​ brother-in-law of late Jeff Ismail,​ expired on the 7th July 2019 and Janaza took place on 8th July 2019 in Dundee,​ Scotland. No 3,​ Johanwood Terrace,​ West End,​ Dundee DD2-1NR Scotland.067905

Thursday, June 20, 2019

The Max Koral Korner - P 2

Post P2 -  My Pet hates 

By Mahendra (Speedy) Gonsalkorale

Hello! It is me, Max Koral. Here I am again! As I said, I am not unique. I am not perfect, but I am entertaining.  When you get to know me better after reading my regular posts in this column, you might even like me!

Today I like to share my thoughts on things that annoy me. Don't get me wrong, I love human beings, and I am decidedly not intolerant.  However, the situations that I am about to describe does give me the goat.

Take traffic lights, for example. I note there are two lanes as I come up to the lights. The left is long, but the right has a shorter queue and allows cars to turn right or go 'straight' (even if you are dishonest). That is the beauty of it. You can be the biggest gangster in the World, but you can go straight. Where was I? Oh yes, I decided to draw behind the car on the right as to all intents and purposes, it was going straight as the indicator light was not on. The lights change to orange and soon to green, and I get ready for taking off and lo and behold, the car in front now shows indicator light turning right! He or she had all this time and waits till the last moment to indicate, and I have a nasty suspicion that this person is a sadist and derives great pleasure from the suffering of others, most probably a politician or a lawyer.

One more pet hate if you don't mind. Even if you do mind, here it is. I know, I know, you had enough, but please do bear with me. It is about walking in long corridors, such as hospital corridors. Here I am trying to get to the clinic on time and can I go past these three rather large people who extend more from East to West than from North to South, chatting to each other? No is the answer as they occupy much precious space and have the habit of just ambling along slowly like snails in distress and intermittently stop without much warning to enjoy a joke with loud guffaws. Just as you see a chance to squeeze past on the right flank, the person on the right extreme decides to wander off to the right and block my passage. I try a few 'excuse me's, but they fall on deaf ears. They could be deaf, of course.

There are more, such as those who never use indicator lights on their cars, the ladies who have long chats with the supermarket checkout girl holding up all behind them. Then there is the lady who loads her supermarket trolley and when payment is requested starts rummaging through a rather large handbag desperately looking for her credit card and after what seems like hours declares triumphantly that she had it in her pocket all the time and grins inanely at you.

Why not share your pet hates with me. Bye for now.